By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Palestinian civilians in Rafah in the Gaza Strip need to be protected, but there should not be any forced mass displacement, the United Nations said on Friday after Israel began drawing up an evacuation plan to allow it to defeat Hamas in the area.
"We're extremely worried about the fate of civilians in Rafah," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Friday.
"What is clear is that people need to be protected, but we also do not want to see any forced displacement - forced mass displacement - of people, which is by definition against their will," Dujarric said. "We would not support in any way forced displacement, which goes against international law."
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the country's military on Friday to draw up a dual plan to evacuate Palestinian civilians from Rafah in southern Gaza and to defeat the last Hamas fighters there.
More than half Gaza's 2.3 million people are sheltering in Rafah, many of them penned up against the border fence with Egypt and living in makeshift tents.
"The unprecedented density of Rafah's population makes it nearly impossible to protect civilians in the event of ground attacks," the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on Friday. "The congestion in Rafah has reached a point where normal routes are blocked by tents set up by families seeking any flat, clean space available."
The war in Hamas-run Gaza began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and capturing 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies. In retaliation, Israel launched a military assault on Gaza that health authorities say has killed more than 27,000 Palestinians with thousands more bodies feared lost amid the ruins.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Diane Craft)